Continuing with some evaluation of NBC's long history of comedy genius, this week, I'd like to talk about Thursday night comedy 'Superstore.'Watch the Season 1 trailer.
Premiering in 2015, "Superstore" is set in a big box store (à la Walmart or Target) and gives us an awesome, in-depth illustration of what it's like "behind the scenes" in the lives of the workers we pass by every time we shop. The fictional Cloud 9 features a hilarious cast of characters that find themselves in everyday situations that are much more ridiculous than you'd initially expect. Every episode of "Superstore" starts out simple with a normal, retail store task or event, but by the end, the normal day has gone completely unexpectedly. Somehow, things have turned upside down. Over the show's four seasons so far, our heroes have dealt with workplace happenings including crows invading the store, a worker accidentally cutting off his finger in the meat slicer, a floor manager unknowingly posting a video of rats in the store's kitchen, getting stuck in the store overnight, finding a dead employee in the walls of the store, organizing a store boycott, and experiencing standard Black Friday craziness.
Meanwhile, the show is able to tackle major social and political issues in a realistic way. One of the characters, hardworking Mateo, is an undocumented immigrant. Viewers witness the challenges he faces as a result of that status. He's unable to transfer stores or get compensation for a workplace accident because of his immigration situation.
"Superstore" features episodes with conversations on gun control, the "Me Too" movement, cultural appropriation, health care, corruption in big corporations, and rules that disproportionately disadvantage low-level retail workers. We see the impacts of these issues on our favorite characters, developing a better understanding of what these controversial situations can mean for everyday people.
But simultaneously, "Superstore" allows us to laugh at the situations at hand and the society that permits them. The writers artfully work in multiple perspectives from each issue. Different characters have different understandings and opinions on each issue, which makes the conversations play out in interesting and realistic ways. The show manages to shine a light on major issues while giving us multiple things to evaluate at once.
For instance, in a Season 1 episode, misguided (white, male) yet well-meaning store manager Glenn asks Amy (a Hispanic woman) to provide free samples for a Cloud 9 brand salsa. Amy, not wanting to exploit her cultural heritage, refuses, leaving Glenn to offer the spot to another Latina woman in the store. Though Amy is really bothered by the idea of using a false accent to sell salsa, Carmen, her coworker, has no problem with it. Amy, horrified by customers' positive reception to the performance, is determined to put a stop to it.
In another episode, Jonah is uncomfortable working the gun counter and requests to be moved. When his request is denied, he ends up finding a reason to deny every customer a firearm, no matter how far-fetched his reasoning. This episode brings up a great conversation on not only gun control, but on other ways that personal beliefs can have an impact on a workplace.
Very Christian Glenn is disturbed to find out that his store also sells the morning-after pill. By the end of the episode, there's a small NRA protest in the store and Glenn is trying to get rid of thousands of dollars worth of pills (that he bought in order to get them off the shelves). Not only does this episode bring up two major issues in gun control and contraception, but it also shows multiple perspectives, risks, and benefits of considering personal beliefs in the workplace.
In most situations like these on "Superstore," the issue isn't necessarily resolved at the end: the show doesn't present an end-all, be-all solution for these major social issues. Rather, it presents different opinions and perspectives via different characters and fixes the situation enough for the store to function again. It manages to be hilarious, but also let the audience think and decide for itself. At the same time, each episode uses random clips of things happening in the store as transition material. Rather than an outside shot of the store with music, we see something really dumb happening elsewhere in the store that isn't directly related to the plot: maybe an employee marking down infested produce, an unsupervised kid making a mess in the toy aisle, or a clueless customer using a display toilet. These brief interludes are just the icing on the cake for an already funny show.
Basically, Cloud 9 is just a huge mess, and so is everyone in it. It's relatable (especially if you've ever worked retail), realistic, and hilarious. It gives us a picture of real issues, everyday life, and people who could reasonably exist. It also includes a "will they/won't they" that's been called the best workplace relationship since "The Office's" Jim and Pam, and a cast of diverse, quirky characters: Jonah, a business school drop out with clever, intellectual Halloween costumes; Amy, the consistently salty floor manager who changes name tags each episode; Dina, who follows each rule to its maximum potential; Glenn, the caring yet oblivious manager; Garrett, the king of shoes and sarcastic comments; and of course Mateo, Cheyenne, Sandra, and countless other "minor" yet awesomely developed and characterized members of the Cloud 9 team.
If I've talked you into watching "Superstore," awesome— you can find the episodes on NBC's website, Xfinity On Campus (if your school has it), and Hulu. Or, if you can't find the first few seasons, you can probably watch an episode and have it make some amount of sense. As a rule, I advocate for/insist on watching any show from the beginning; you'll understand ongoing plots or references better and it'll make the jokes funnier. But if you can't find the first few seasons, don't be afraid to jump in anywhere. You won't regret it.
Check out last week's article's article on NBC comedies, featuring 'The Good Place.'